04/15/2024, 20:11, Vienna  DEUTSCH / ENGLISH

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THE VIENNA PSYCHOANALYST wants to give not only already internationally established psychoanalysts, but also still unknown psychoanalysts the opportunity to post a self-written and not yet published article on the FrontPage of our online magazine!

Our Users then can leave comments, ask questions or discuss the articles in our forum. Our aim is to provide an international platform where for the first time anyone interested in psychoanalysis can exchange ideas on certain topics.
Articles are welcome in German and/ or English.

If you are interested, please send your article to

(For reasons of readability, the male form is used with personal names, however the female form is also always intended.)

Can politics be psychoanalyzed?

Author: Sabrina Zehetner (TVP)


The status quo of the interplay between psychoanalysis and politics - Dr. David Bell and Dr. Martin Engelberg are familiar with both worlds. 

Psychoanalysis in the Public Sphere

The election of Donald Trump has motivated not a few hobby psychoanalysts and journalists to analyze his behavior. Thus far he has been described as narcissistic, megalomaniac, and even fascist. To put political leaders on the public couch is not a new phenomenon. Body language and rhetoric in the context of politics have always been subjected to scrutiny, but are they really part of psychoanalysis? The field has had difficulties finding its place in the modern political debate and being taken seriously.

One major obstacle that psychoanalysis faces is the fact that it doesn´t churt out statistics like other fields such a sociology or psychology. Psychoanalysis deals with what can’t be seen, the repressed, and is more concerned with what happens in the private space than on the big political stages of the world. This trend might change but - whether one agrees with this assumption or not –  the current political and media landscape proves that in the battle for attention statistics sell better than psychoanalytic essays. To critically interpret and psychoanalyze cultural and social phenomena requires time political reporting rarely has in the digital age. One may speculate about a politician’s childhood trauma, but even If there´s an attempt to do so, ethical questions remain. The Goldwater rule by the APA (American Psychiatric Association) states that “it is unethical for a psychiatrist to offer a professional opinion unless he or she has conducted an examination and has been granted proper authorization for such a statement.” Against this backdrop, it is quite telling that its Wikipedia article has dedicated a whole section to Donald Trump. All things considered, the arbitrary, public analysis of political persona, and to casually throw complex disorders such as narcissism into discussions, harm a profession that is already in danger of becoming irrelevant in the public eye. If political personalities then turn out to be difficult to analyze, what about group processes?

Group Phenomena in Politics

Dr. Martin Engelberg - psychoanalyst, consultant and member of the Austrian parliament - points out that “there is criticism on the medicalization of psychoanalysis and its almost exclusive focus on the treatment of patients.” This is reflected in the current psychotherapy training. In contrast, Freud and other psychoanalysts have attempted to apply psychoanalytic insights to social and cultural processes. Dr. David Bell, past president of the British Psychoanalytic Society, is convinced that “one very important way in which individuals can influence the socio-historical/political situation they find themselves in is through engagement and intellectual understanding. The analyst’s role is to contribute to that intellectual understanding in hope that people can make use of the knowledge.” To the consultant psychiatrist (Tavistock and Portman NHS Foundation Trust /Adult Department), this understanding can form a part of an ongoing critique of the dominant ideologies.

 “I think that psychoanalysis must always have a critical relationship with the culture in which it defines itself, and as such it can provide a way in which a culture can reflect on its own way of being.”

Group dynamics as a smaller unit may provide a less vague and more tangible way to approach and grasp cultural and social phenomena. Martin Engelberg refers to Sigmund Freud who “already researched group-dynamic processes and the regression of the masses that project their “ego ideal” onto leaders and their identification with them, whereby moral constraints are turned off. Later, it was Wilfred Bion who described regressive processes within groups.

 Other significant psychoanalysts such as Turquet, Anzieu, Chasseguet-Smirgel, Kernberg and the British Tavistock Clinic/Insitute have greatly contributed to the understanding of group processes.” Psychoanalytic-oriented organizational consultants like Martin Engelberg dedicate themselves to political process from a psychoanalytic perspective as well.

Psychoanalysts as Politicians

David Bell has long had an abiding commitment to the political ‘Left’ and has contributed to understanding the nature of racism and stereotypes.

“In my own work I have made a use of psychoanalytic understanding to contribute to the discussions on the nature of human violence, the destruction of the welfare state and of the hatred of vulnerability and dependence which we tend to project onto other people who we then treat with contempt.”

However, apart from the theoretical pursuits and political activities of some psychoanalysts, we don’t know how many psychoanalysts actively work in partisan politics. Psychoanalysts often work in consulting and group-dynamic training that are part of politics and drawn upon, and frequently pose a starting point for a political career. Martin Engelberg as a member of the Austrian parliament and the ÖVP (Austrian People´s Party) views his political commitment as a chance for psychoanalysis to gain “more popularity and recognition”.

“I became involved in politics as someone who likes to help fashion major social and political developments – something I´ve already done within the Jewish community or the Vienna Psychoanalytic Association. Even though I´m not a practicing psychoanalyst, my psychoanalytic know-how and experiences do help me and are considered valuable. It seems to me that this is excellent way to introduce psychoanalysis to a wider audience as well. “

Perhaps in the future we will see more psychoanalysts in the parliaments and councils of the world – Psychoanalysis would certainly benefit from it.

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